Basin Electric evaluates new products for lignite gasification plant

Basin Electric Power Cooperative said April 26 that a team of employees is working with several companies on possible opportunities to expand a lignite gasification plant in North Dakota and market new products, including possibly synthetic gasoline and jet fuel.

Over the life of the Great Plains Synfuels Plant, Dakota Gasification Co. has improved plant economics by adding products and diversifying revenue streams at the facility. The urea plant currently under construction is one example of those diversification efforts.

A team of Dakota Gas employees are working with several companies on possible opportunities to expand the plant and market other new products. The team includes Steve Pouliot, engineering manager.

“Many gas-to-liquids projects have been evaluated over the last 25 years, including projects to convert syngas to jet fuel, gasoline, diesel, wax and lubricants,” Pouliot said. “High capital cost, due to the amount of equipment required, and the complexity of the integration issues with our process, have prevented us from going forward with a project in the past.”

Two processes are currently in the early stages of investigation to determine if they make economic sense to employ at the Synfuels Plant.

  • The first is a syngas-to-gasoline process that employs new technology and requires less equipment for the conversion process than some prior technologies. The licensor of this technology conducted an initial feasibility study last year, and Dakota Gas is in the process of studying this process further. Karen Olson, Dakota Gas chemical process engineer, is leading a multi-disciplinary team of engineers to further refine the project estimate and evaluate any integration issues with the existing plant. This feasibility study is scheduled to be completed later this year.
  • A second gas-to-liquids project involves some older, proven technology to convert syngas to jet fuel. In this case, it appears that there is an opportunity to create a value-added product.

“We’ve had several discussions involving project scope and high level technical discussions regarding the conversion process and utilities available at the Synfuels Plant,” Pouliot said. “The next step will be to conduct a feasibility study later this summer.”

Biomass feed to the gasifiers is another project being evaluated. “By feeding a small percentage of biomass to the gasifiers, we may be able to be registered as a renewable natural gas producer,” Pouliot said.

Fuel products, in the ratio of the gasifier feed, would then create “renewable credits” that can be sold to obligated parties that need to comply with the Renewable Fuel standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Other items that remain on the radar for the future include argon and neon separation from the liquid oxygen in the air separation unit, exploring ammonium sulfate solution markets to offload the ammonium sulfate compaction unit, optimizing the phosam unit to recover additional ammonia, and options for more carbon dioxide sales, said Basin.

Dakota Gasification a for-profit subsidiary of Basin Electric, owns and operates the Great Plains Synfuels Plant near Beulah, N.D. This the only commercial-scale coal gasification facility in the U.S. that manufactures natural gas. The heart of the Synfuels Plant is its 14 gasifiers that use locally-mined lignite coal as the feedstock. The plant can produce upwards of 175 million standard cubic feet per day (mmscf/d) of synthetic natural gas, which is sold via the gas pipeline system.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.